Seoul points the way to fifth-screen future

11 Oct 2011

The mobile sector is abuzz with the concept of multiple screens, often in the sense of creating a seamless user experience between the TV, PC, laptop/tablet and smartphone. But there’s another screen to consider – public digital signage screens.

Digital signage is often talked up as the “fifth screen” that can serve as both another potential revenue stream for operators (signs being another device to connect to the network) and a new way for advertisers to interact with consumers at specific locations via a range of technologies, from Bluetooth and QR codes to augmented reality.

But if you really want to see the possibilities of public screen interaction and the potential impact it can have on cultural norms and behaviors, Jan Chipchase – an executive creative director of global insights at frog design, and creator of the FuturePerfect blog – points to Seoul as an experiment in progress.

As we rely more on our smart phones, laptops, and tablet computers to acquire and share information, as we develop sharper and more interactive large-scale electronic signs in stores, on streets, and on billboards, it's worthwhile to look to a city that offers glimpses into the future of global screen culture.

Chipchase writes in The Atlantic that he’s been fascinated with Seoul as an incubator for display technologies ever since coming across a print poster with a dynamic display in 2005, and then wondering how people’s perceptions and behaviors will shift as dynamic, interactive displays become the norm.

Chipchase also looks at a Home Plus “virtual” supermarket – a screen in a subway station that displays life-sized grocery items that customers can purchase online by snapping the QR code of each item. Home Plus says its online sales have gone up 130% since it started trialing the store, but Chipchase says there’s more going on than simply getting people to buy groceries via smartphones:

Every purchase made is recorded, and offers retailers and marketers data on what consumers are interested in, what their purchasing choices are. In the future, as screen culture proliferates around the world, this will be more of a common occurrence. Screens will read us; we will not only read them. This brings up the question of how our literacy of not only screens, but also our environments, will be altered forever. We will have to decide whether messages we see on signs that react to us, which change to our needs in real time based on how they acquire and process our demographic data is a deep violation of privacy or helpful, tailored information.

The privacy angle is particularly worth emphasizing. As digital signage screens become consumer data collection points, that raises questions about whose responsibility it is to secure that data, and who gets held responsible when it’s compromised.

And we have already seen digital signage network servers hacked, albeit to replace scheduled content with porn, not steal anything. Still, that’s an indication that interactive signs are on the black-hat radar as a possible target.

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